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Two New Zealand Star Experiences That Drove My Love For Astronomy

Bright. Plentiful. Stars are just everywhere. Unfortunately, growing up in New York City meant that I really didn’t get to see all the stars that exist in our night sky. The highest I ever counted was about nine from my dining room window, though I am pretty sure that five of those ‘stars’ were actually airplanes because stars don’t usually blink red and white right near John F. Kennedy Airport, right? No, no they don’t.

Living in New Zealand, though, that number went from “nine” to nine-hundred (and quite possibly to nine-thousand) fairly quickly. I felt comfortable with the first one hundred, but the more they appeared at night, the more scared I started to become. I had, what you would call “astraphobia,” the fear of stars and space. And the feeling was real. It was like I was a cavewoman and someone lit a torch in front of me for the first time. You can’t process it. You feel threatened. You feel like you don’t know what to believe. Camping in the middle of farmlands and mountains and being surrounded by pitch dark and little lights in the sky was just scary. Read more

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Brave Series: Exploring New Zealand’s ‘White Island’– an ACTIVE marine volcano

According to Maori legend, White Island was formed when Maui first came in contact with fire, holding it in his hand, feeling the intense burn, diving deep into the sea and letting it go. What resulted was ‘White Island,’ New Zealand’s active marine volcano.

James Cook first saw it in 1769, it last erupted in 2001, and it rises about 1600 meters from the seafloor.  As scary as it sounds, there are actually tours that take you out there for the opportunity to experience it yourself. In an effort to overcome fear and give in to my curiosity and intrigue, we booked a tour to the mighty, natural formation. That’s right, we voluntarily went on an active volcano and into its inner crater– and it was cray.

I can honestly say that I’m not the same person I was when I last left New York City earlier this year, already. We all grow and development is natural, sure. But, I can tell you this: New Zealand has put my love of nature and understanding/intrigue natural disasters on a whole different different level.

Volcanoes are scary, yeah? Especially if they are active. But that fear inside of me, is a fire of its own, driven by a cloud of bravery that peeks over, dodging the flames and wanting to experience and understand more of the world’s offerings.

We booked a trip with White Island Tours and I honestly couldn’t sleep the two days beforehand; I was shaking in my bed sheets, worried that I was surely going to die.

I remember eating my last meal the night before: pad thai. And I remember putting on my shoes one last time that morning: hiking boots. Sure, it seems silly to some, but don’t we all go through things like this?

We checked-in around 9am that morning and departed Whakatane on a boat; destination: White Island. We passed rivers, islands, marine wildlife and, 80 minutes later, we saw her. I turned for a quick photo, thinking: “Gosh, I’m okay with just cruising, do we really need to land?” Fear was present, but there was no turning back.

We were handed life vests, hard hats and a gas mask. Anchored just a few meters away from the volcano, we got into a little inflatable raft and landed on the beach. Read more